Hendrik Hofmeyr

Composer and Professor and Head of Composition and Music Theory at the University of Cape Town

South Africa



HENDRIK HOFMEYR was born in Cape Town in 1957. His first major success as a composer came in 1988 with the performance at the State Theatre of The Fall of the House of Usher, which won the South African Opera Competition and was also awarded the Nederburg Opera Prize. In the same year, Hofmeyr, who was furthering his studies in Italy during ten years of self-imposed political exile, obtained first prize in an international competition in Trent with music for a short film by Wim Wenders. In 1992 he accepted a post as lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch, and in 1997 won two further international competitions, the Queen Elisabeth Competition of Belgium (with Raptus for violin and orchestra) and the Dimitri Mitropoulos Competition in Athens (with Byzantium for high voice and orchestra). Hofmeyr is currently professor and Head of Composition and Music Theory at the University of Cape Town, where he obtained his Doctorate in 1999. His Incantesimo for flute was chosen to represent South Africa at the Congress of the International Society of Contemporary Music in Croatia in 2005, and in 2008 he was honoured with a Kanna Award by the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival. He received the UCT Creative Arts Award for his Second Symphony – The Elements in 2018, and in 2021 a CD of his works entitled Partita africana was chosen as CD of the Month by the French magazine Classica. Hofmeyr’s oeuvre comprises six operas, two ballets, two symphonies, thirteen concerti and numerous vocal and instrumental works, and includes some 130 commission works.




What does music mean to you personally?

For me, music is humanity’s greatest and most irreplaceable contribution to our experience of the world we live in. What we experience in the other arts has counterparts in the world as we know it, but what we experience when we hear music is unique to the art form, and would be unknown to us without it.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

Music is certainly about fantasy, but also about all the other things that make us what we are, such as instinct, emotion, intellect and spirit. Just as a human being who lacked any of these things would somehow seem incomplete to me, so a piece of music that lacked any of them would engage me less completely.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

Definitely an artist of some kind. I love literature and the visual arts.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future? It would be great to have more young people actively supporting classical music and going to concerts. On the other hand, the electronic media have generated a new and freer space where younger people can explore classical music on their own terms. Composers and performers have been slower to embrace this new way of sharing music.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

We have a huge task to fulfil in bridging the gulf between composers on one hand and performers and public on the other after the devastatingly successful efforts by some 20th-century modernists to alienate them.

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

To be creative has always been of vital importance in music, but today we also have to be creative in how we bring our art form to people. Due to the plethora of forces competing for the public’s attention, practitioners of art music need to promote it in innovative and pro-active ways.

b>Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

Perhaps we need to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to us. I think the formal trappings of the concert hall can be quite off-putting to many young people.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

I always start with the meaning I intend to convey with the music. All the creative processes and choices are determined by that. It is very difficult for me to choose a favourite among my pieces, so I’ll go with one that resulted from a very meaningful moment in my life: I was working on another piece when I learnt that my beloved piano teacher and mentor, Laura Searle, had passed away. Deeply saddened by this news, I dropped what I was doing and, wrote, in a single sitting, a Pie Jesu for choir, which was sung at her funeral. When I hear it performed, I am always reminded of this wonderful person and of everything she has meant to me, and it is the one piece of mine of which I would not change a single note.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Classical music is a world filled with an overwhelming variety of emotions and experiences, from the playful and light-hearted to the solemn and tragic, from the dreamy and soothing to the exciting and dramatic. To enter this world and explore all its delights takes a little more effort than that required to appreciate your average pop song, but it is well worth it. Remember that adventures do not happen by taking the easy, well-worn path! Start with something that appeals to you already, perhaps in the realm of popular classics, and then begin exploring other works by that composer or in that style or genre. Sometimes you have to listen to a new piece a few times before you find its hidden treasures, but the time and effort you invest makes that discovery all the more meaningful.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

Absolutely. Music is for me perhaps the most direct form of communication, and I always try to make my message as clear as possible, so that the person receiving it can engage with it at a physical, emotional and intellectual level.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

My new projects are largely determined by commissions and requests from performers. I love working in this way, as the specific characteristics of different media (and sometimes the personalities of the performers) are to me in themselves a form of inspiration. Every new work is an opportunity to experiment with the infinite variety that can be created through combinations of melodic, harmonic, timbral and/or structural procedures. I like to explore the ways in which extended techniques have enriched the expressive capacities of traditional instruments. When I again have time to write what I will, I would like to write a concerto for duduk and orchestra